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German parliament approves climate protection law

FILE PHOTO: A kite with the extinction symbol flies in the sky as Extinction Rebellion demonstrators block the Muhlendamm Bridge during the launch of a new wave of civil disobedience in Berlin, Germany October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Mang

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German lower house of parliament approved on Friday a major climate protection package which aims to ensure Germany will meet its 2030 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The package, agreed after months of haggling between the Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat coalition partners, has already been criticized as inadequate in view of the urgent challenges posed by climate change.

Environment minister Svenja Schulze said the measures, which compel ministries to take additional steps to cut emissions if Germany falls behind on its climate goals, plugged a major gap in Germany's legislative framework.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, means to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 55% of its 1990 level by 2030. Merkel in September acknowledged her coalition’s credibility on climate policy had been hurt by abandoning an earlier 2020 emissions cut target.

"If too much carbon dioxide is emitted we have to take immediate measures to reach our 2030 goals," she told reporters after the vote.

The package also includes a domestic carbon pricing scheme, bigger incentives for buying electric cars, higher road tolls for trucks from 2023, surcharges on domestic flights and plans to pump money into rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

An initial price of 10 euros ($11.02) a tonne for carbon dioxide emissions from heating and transport, was attacked by the opposition Greens as far too low.

"You have failed in humanity's task of protecting the climate," the Greens' floor leader Anton Hofreiter told the Bundestag's legislators ahead of the vote enacting the law.

The Greens have vowed to use their strong position in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, and in state governments to tighten aspects of the law that are in their purview.

That could affect measures including tax relief for commuters hit by higher fuel costs.

The package was also criticized from the far right, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party saying it would cost hundreds of thousands of people their jobs.

"Driving cars will become the privilege of the rich," said AfD legislator Marc Bernhard.

(Reporting by Markus Wacket; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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